Vance High football coach Aaron Brand said he considers his team – a No. 9 seed without much tradition – a big underdog in Friday’s N.C. 4A regional championship at Charlotte Catholic.
Catholic’s Cougars (13-1) are seeded No. 3 and are making their 31st appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs since 1972. Catholic’s postseason record is 56-25 since 1972, with six state final appearances. Vance won its seventh playoff game in Friday’s 21-14 win against Rocky River and has never advanced to a state final.
“We’ve got to climb a little bit of a mountain,” Brand said.
Brand has coached in four state finals as an assistant coach, including last season at Mallard Creek. He’ll coach in his ninth regional final Friday. Charlotte Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz, in his first season, has also coached in several regional finals as an assistant under Jim Oddo at Catholic. Brodowicz’s team has won 10 straight since a 40-21 loss to Mallard Creek.
A look at other regional finals involving Observer-area teams:
•Mallard Creek (13-1) at Lake Norman (13-1), N.C. 4AA semifinal:
Lake Norman has won 11 straight games and has beaten three Mecklenburg County teams in the playoffs (35-7 over West Charlotte; 41-26 over Ardrey Kell; and 52-42 over Hough). Quarterback Josh Ladowski accounted for 351 yards and five touchdowns Friday against Hough.
Mallard Creek, the reigning N.C. 4AA champion, is 17-4 all-time against non-Mecklenburg County teams. Two of those losses came in 2007, Mallard Creek’s first season, and one is by forfeit. Since losing to Greensboro Page in the 2011 regional final, the Mavericks are 9-0 against out-of-county competition. Lake Norman, an Iredell County school, has never beaten Mallard Creek.
•Weddington (13-1) at Cuthbertson (11-3), N.C. 3AA semifinal:
Two Southern Carolina conference opponents and Union County rivals meet in one of the biggest games in county history. Cuthbertson beat Weddington 42-38 on Oct. 17 and has won 10 straight since a 1-3 start.
•South Point (10-4) at Crest (14-0), N.C. 3A semifinal:
South Point lost 35-13 to Crest to start the season. Crest hunts a fourth finals appearance in five seasons.
•Franklin (14-0) at East Lincoln (14-0), N.C. 2AA semifinal:
East Lincoln won the 2012 state title and looks to return for the second time in three seasons. Franklin averages 37.4 points per game.
•Mount Pleasant (12-2) at Shelby (12-2), N.C. 2A semifinal:
Shelby, the reigning state champion, beat Mount Pleasant 17-0 in the 2007 regional final. This is Mount Pleasant’s first regional final since then.
Like Mount Pleasant, it’s been a while since Vance has advanced this far. The Cougars lost 44-24 to Butler in the 2010 regional final. From 2011-13, Vance was 20-17, but Brand promised quick results. He’s delivered.
“Stuff has fallen into place,” he said. “We’ve had just enough to get it done. These kids don’t want to go home. They just don’t want to go home.”